It's new and it's unusual, but it's reality: USC will face Virginia Commonwealth on Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio as part of the NCAA's new "First Four" system. The Trojans and Rams will play at 6 p.m. on truTV for the No. 11 seed in the Southwest bracket and the right to travel to Chicago and face sixth-seeded Georgetown in the official first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Here's what you need to know about VCU and its 33-year-old coach, Shaka Smart: (1) Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill compares them to Pac-10 champion Washington, and (2) the Rams' defensive style is known as "havoc."
Suffice to say, Smart's squad is quick, and Smart's squad is multi-talented. The annual Colonial Athletic Association powers play a lot of full-court press, which will surely trouble a USC team that has rarely faced such a defense this season. The Rams are also 10-deep, meaning that the stretch run of Wednesday's game will feature a tired Trojan squad against a not-so-tired Rams squad.
Still, USC is favored to win by most experts, and the consensus appears to be that the two teams will meet for one of the more highly anticipated games of the first round.
“VCU is a team that, obviously, being in the NCAA tournament as an at-large, deserves our respect," O'Neill said Sunday. "They’re gonna play up and down, they’re gonna shoot threes, they’re gonna play aggressive. They’re deep, they play hard."
VCU's top two players are two upperclassmen in forward Jamie Skeen and guard Bradford Burgess. Skeen, a 6-9, 240-pound Wake Forest transfer, puts up 15.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and also possesses a potent outside shot. Burgess averages 14 points per game and can also stroke it from long range, tossing up more than four 3-pointers per game this season.
Aside from its top two, VCU has a lot of guards. The Rams' next four top scorers all stand 6-4 or shorter. Lately, Smart has also been starting a 7-foot freshman center named D.J. Haley, who hails from nearby Palmdale, and playing him limited minutes.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see the raw, athletic Haley start Wednesday and cover either the Trojans' Nikola Vucevic or Alex Stepheson at tip-off.